For LA 2028: Summoning Our Best Angels

09/14/2017 12:13 pm ET

This week, it became official. The International Olympics Committee formally awarded the 2028 Summer Games to the City of Los Angeles.

As a member of the LA 2024 Committee (now LA 2028) working to position Los Angeles as an ideal host for the Olympic and Paralympic Games, I had the opportunity to provide a set of remarks to the City Council to seek their support for the host contract proposal. It was an inspiring moment. City Hall was populated with great Olympians like Carl Lewis, John Nabor, and Janet Evans – all flanked by a broad range of giddy civic leaders from the corporate and nonprofit sectors of Los Angeles.

Community activists and advocates displayed a much more somber tone in their preceding remarks, speaking in cautionary terms about hosting the Games. They had many concerns: homelessness is bad in LA, and this will make it worse; affordable housing is a serious problem, and this will make it worse; gentrification and displacement is eroding communities, and this will make it worse.

With the Rio Olympic Games fresh in the rearview mirror, the community advocate and activist concerns are not ill-founded. Community housing and economic development took a backseat to prettying up Rio for the three-week drop-in by global visitors. Here in LA, affordable housing, homelessness, and displacement issues are not an imagined boogeyman – we are struggling mightily on those issues.

So how should we as political and civic leaders respond? Will hosting the Games be the best – or worst -- thing that happens to Los Angeles?

The first consideration is a version of the Hippocratic Oath of physicians: do no harm. Let’s agree that in the planning efforts for hosting the Games, the issues of homelessness, housing, and displacement will not worsen. But I would suggest, using an Olympic competition metaphor, that is still a bar set too low.

What if the Plan for LA 2028 included the goal of being a great host to the global community AND creating a better community for our residents?

What if political and civic leaders across our region locked arms to be more assertive about “Impact 2028,” with a short list of key measures of improvement: homelessness and affordable housing; jobs and economic development; schools; policing and justice reform; immigration; and health care and wellness opportunities?

What if the idea of Impact 2028 is not some lofty, far-off pipe dream, but closer to our collective grasp than we think? Here is what a starter kit for action might look like; the themes are not brand new, but build on what we have:

  • On homelessness, this region has made substantial leaps in policy and financing improvements. Both LA City and County elected officials have stepped up to work side by side to improve supportive housing and service delivery opportunities. Build on this new level of cooperation and take it to the next level. On affordable housing, community-based advocates have sensible, thoughtful proposals for increasing affordable housing in the region. They should be listened to.
  • On economic development, the LA Economic Development Corporation is putting the finishing touches on a pragmatic set of strategies for a “lift-all-boats” future for the LA region. We need to rally for that emerging plan.
  • On the matter of schools, LA Unified Superintendent Michelle King has moved to bring a group of thoughtful civic leaders together to finalize a strategic plan to improve education outcomes for students and the financial condition of the District. Rather than greeting that plan with a tepid response, the corporate and philanthropic sectors of our region should lean in to the action steps that will emerge.
  • On public safety and justice reform, LA City and County are poised to make the leap towards Community Policing 2.0, as meaningful steps toward strengthened civilian oversight and community partnership incrementally move forward. At the County level, the Board of Supervisors is steadfastly moving towards replacing an incarceration framework with community based prevention and mental health support. Closing youth prisons is next.
  • On immigration, recent national and global events remind us of how Los Angeles is positioned to advance a new and powerful narrative about inclusion – and how immigrants represent a positive economic force – not an economic drain.
  • On health, the Los Angeles region led the state of California in cutting the numbers of uninsured by more than half, taking advantage of the Affordable Care Act and the expansion of Medi-Cal. LA is the base camp for the Health4All movement -- we cannot allow the Trump administration to stop our progress.

The most inspiring aspects of the Olympic and Paralympic Games – diversity, inclusion, fitness, wellness, and courage – should guide our planning for 2028. Not just for the athletes and global visitors, but also for the future of the families and residents who live here.

Robert K. Ross, MD

President & CEO, The California Endowment

Member of the LA 2028 Committee

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